Friday, 6 March 2020

Afternoon Tea

It's a tradition, yes, and a bizarre one. Anyone who is not British will find it hard to understand why at 4pm everyday we stop doing whatever it is we are doing, including work, and make a cup of tea. And if we miss the hour, why we tut at ourselves and catch up pronto. More than a simple cuppa is, of course, possible. Some kind of cake or bun or sweet thing is typical too. Even a biscuit will suffice for this purpose.

But there's more. A cream tea involving scones and clotted cream and jam, in that order - don't trust anyone who puts cream on the jam -  is a lovely indulgence beyond a toasted tea cake dripping in butter, or a muffin. And that thing in the Importance of Being Earnest about cucumber sandwiches is for real. We do actually eat these, and other fillings besides, before turning our attention to the sweet stuff. But if you want the full monty in afternoon teas you need to not eat any lunch, and not plan on eating any supper either.

The best place to indulge in this lavish experience is one of the smarter hotels in London. Think The Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester or Claridges, for example, There are lesser places, but, hey, this is a once a year, special occasion treat. And be prepared to spend a pretty penny.

For my birthday this year, a very dear friend took me to The Dorchester where we indulged in two kinds of tea - I chose Ceylon and then Darjeeling - plus a third - to serve as a palette cleanser, a mixture of peach, rose and green tea unfurled into a flower in a glass flagon as we ate our sandwiches. These were of cucumber, what else? as there were some to be had in the market that morning, egg, smoked salmon, chicken, and beef. All crustless, delicious and eaten with a knife and fork. It's more than a little crass to eat this kind of tea with one's fingers.

Then the cake: first the cream tea with two kinds of scones, frutied and plain. And then the fancy cakes served on the traditional stand. At this point, and well over two hours in, we failed. We had simply eaten too much. Luckily it is not considered bad form to ask for a box in which to take one's cakes home. So, various fruity, sugary and chocolate confections found their way to accompanying my morning coffee for the next couple of days.

This odd ritual was a throughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon/early evening, but not one that I'd want to repeat too often, as it is hardly very good for one's health or figure.

After note: Champagne is an indulgence too far for me with tea. It's not traditional and I'm a stickler, but go ahead it you have something ultra-special to toast.

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